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This article brings sociological theory of governmentality to bear on a longitudinal analysis of American presidential speeches to theorize the formation of the citizen-consumer subject. The 40-year historical analysis which expands through four economic recessions and the presidential terms of Ronald Reagan, William J. Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Hussein Obama, illustrates the ways in which the national mythology of American Dream myth has been linked to the political ideology of the state to create the citizen-consumer subject in the United States. The quantitative and qualitative analysis of the data demonstrates first, the consistent emphasis on responsibility as a key moral value albeit meshed with ideals of liberalism and libertarianism at different presidential periods; second, the presidents iteratively link the neoliberal political ideology and the national myth of American dream through a sophisticated morality play myth, where they cast the citizen-consumer as a responsible moral hero on a journey to achieve American dream, and, third, the presidents use three main dispositives – disciplinary, legal and security - to craft the citizen-consumer subject in their response to the economic recessions. The findings extend prior consumer research on consumer subjectivity, consumer moralism, marketplace mythology and politics of consumption.


This is a pre-copy-editing, author-produced PDF of an article accepted for publication in Journal of Consumer Research, volume 47, issue 3, in 2020 following peer review. The version of record is available online at

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